1st Sunday of Advent - Stay Awake

As we enter the Advent season, we move liturgically from the darkness that will precede the end of the world to the darkness that hovered over the world at its beginning. This darkness holds within it the promise of dawn. We anxiously await the rising sun.

This is a season of expectation and of hope. It is a time for us to listen again to God's promise of deliverance and reconciliation. It is a time for us to be reassured of His relentless love for each and all of us, and for our planet.

The very first beam of light that announces the coming of the sun is the morning star. At the very beginning of Advent, we welcome the pure light of Mary, who, by her Immaculate Conception, prepares us for the Son who is to come. Already, the saving power of Jesus shines upon the moment of His mother's conception and will not let the darkness of original sin shadow her being. She is "full of grace", filled with the life and holiness of God from the beginning. And she thus becomes a model and promise of the holiness that will be restored to all of us through the life, death and resurrection of her Son.

This is what Advent should mean for us. It is a time for us to be filled with new hope, new courage. It is a time for us to be reassured that the darkness that overshadows the present moment, whether from sin, sickness, poverty, sorrow, weakness or failure, will be dissipated and driven away by the Sun of Justice, the Word-Made-Flesh.

Our "guest speakers" for this Season of Advent are Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul and Matthew. Each in his own way proclaims the "good news": Jesus, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, Has Come, Is Coming and Will Come!

We listen, and wonder and pray, while we get caught up in the flurry of activities that accompany our preparation for the Christmas holiday. We know this holy season is important for us. We hear the words of promise and of exhortation. What Isaiah saw in prophetic vision we have learned from history. He described what the person and mission of the Messiah would be like; we know from apostolic witness how perfectly Jesus fulfilled that vision and promise. Through Baptism, we have become members of His kingdom of justice, peace and light.

But His coming is an ongoing mystery. He needs us and uses us to "make straight His paths." We are called to hasten His coming in our own time and place. We must continue to "beat our swords into plowshares" and prepare the way of the Lord."

Advent is not a season of false hope. We are not getting ready for some improbable, imagined event that exists only in fantasy. Our hope is based on the assurance that our God is coming. He has, in fact, already come among us in our own flesh. He has, in fact, already loved us beyond death, has overcome sin and evil, and has seeded us with the hope of Eternal Life.

We use these advent days to stir up this hope in a fearful world, to cultivate that seed of hope to full bloom. We know that the Lord has come... we are certain that the Lord will come. And for us that does not mean waiting in fear and dread for doomsday. We do believe in the second coming of Jesus, and we try to live each day in readiness for that stupendous event.

The year 2010 has been far from peaceful. But, especially as this year comes to a close, we reaffirm our belief in all that Jesus has already accomplished in us, and we see in that a promise, a reason to hope for so much more.... for a deepening of our own faith and love... for the power to overcome evil in ourselves and in our world... for the spread of the gospel... for the healing of hatred and the banishment of terrorism and war... for peace and justice.

The scene of the Christmas Crib is by no means just for children. We are not spending four weeks just to welcome again the "baby Jesus". We are trying to drive away the shadows of sin and despair so that we can open our hearts and minds and lives to the overpowering light of the incarnate Son of God made man. We want to use this sacred time to deepen our understanding of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We need to realize again how fully He has entered into the very fabric of our lives. We want to allow Him to transform every facet of our human existence, so that in all things we think, speak, choose and act as redeemed children of God.

Our coming Christmas celebration has to include all of this. We long for readiness... for a house in order... for a conscience cleansed... for quiet prayerful expectation in the midst of all of the pre-Christmas activity... for gifts that will express the unconditional love of Jesus... for the simple pleasure of being with those we love.

This is the challenge - and the precious opportunity - of Advent. And so we pray each day:

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Help us to be ready for you...to see you and love you in the circumstances of our lives, in the people who surround us. Help us to be ready to give you whatever You ask, whatever you need of our poor treasures to enrich the poor....whatever you need of our lives and energies to bring hope to the hopeless.
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!